Michael Sam, SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, has made headlines with his public announcement on ESPN that he is gay. Some commentators are already trying to downplay the significance of Sam’s announcement, which comes less than three months before the NFL Draft. True, Sam may not be the first gay athlete to play in one of the four major American professional sports. But no one can change the fact that, in 2014, Michael Sam will become the first male athlete to play his entire career in a major American pro sport while being openly gay.
Jason Collins may have technically beat Sam to the punch of announcing publicly that he is gay; however, Collins’ decade-long career as an NBA benchwarmer was effectively finished when he made his nationally televised announcement in 2013. For DE Michael Sam, he will play his entire NFL career with some of the pressure that followed Jackie Robinson after he integrated Major League Baseball. Sure, Sam won’t suffer many of the indignities that Robinson did, such as the prejudice of many white baseball fans and players who ignorantly proclaimed that black players were not “intelligent” enough to play baseball (yes, America was that ignorant in 1947). But Sam will share in the burden of representing an entire class of disadvantage minorities for the entirety of his pro career, in a place where no gay man has ever felt comfortable being entirely himself. Stay tuned for the April 2014 NFL Draft and beyond– we will all have to wait and see where Michael Sam goes from this day forward.